There were loads of great talks at Citrix Synergy a few weeks ago, but I’m especially pleased I made the effort to get up for an 8:30am session from SpaceX

SpaceX (in case you’d haven’t turned on a television or used the internet for a few years) designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. During Synergy week they were busily launching rockets into Space, visiting the International Space Station etc… but took time out to describe how Citrix XenDesktop, XenServer, HDX 3D Pro and vGPU technologies developed with NVIDIA GRID had taken their datacenter interstellar! SpaceX has 2100+ engineers and some great videos about their cutting edge use of CAD software such as Siemens NX, worth a view here.

SpaceX are heavy users of Siemens PLM’s high-end CAD offering NX, as well as their enterprise PLM TeamCenter. Many of my regular readers know I moved from Siemens PLM to Citrix and having worked with these packages and high-end aerospace know how rigorous but also complex the design cycle and management has to be. This is rocket science! It’s expensive and mistakes cannot be tolerated nor safety compromised. Siemens PLM have recently certified both NX and TeamCenter for use with Citrix virtualized environments with Citrix being the only platform certified for NVIDIA vGPU GPU sharing. SpaceX also use MathWorks (including intensive GPU usage for calculations), Google Earth and Flash apps.

TeamCenter is a powerful and highly complex PLM package to manage vast assemblies and parts across multiple geographies and organizations. SpaceX described how using remote CAD access they had been able to consolidate to a single secure datacenter, removing the need for costly time consuming TeamCenter regional datacenter caching, WAN data transfer and synchronization.

SpaceX using Leap Motion and the NX SDK to allow engineers to manipulate CAD parts by hand. Click the image to go to the full story!

NX is probably one of the most sophisticated, powerful CAD packages available favored by high-end designers in aerospace and automotive, and the design engine used by Nissan, Fiat-Chrysler, GM and of course SpaceX. These guys really do use it to do rocket science! High-end designers are expensive, highly valuable and extremely fussy, to get the best from these guys, manufacturing companies ensure they have high-end hardware to ensure the software is responsive and they can maintain productive workflows. In fact SpaceX showed a rather interesting haptic integration with the Leap Motion device allowing their designers to manipulate engine parts and similar with their bare hands. Support for this kind of device is an essential part of the HDX 3D Pro product portfolio allowing manufacturing enterprise customers devices they need and desire for equivalent workstation functionality and productivity, such as the 3D space mouse, printer support, secure smart card readers and the next generation of thin client devices.  Interestingly the NX SDK allowed SpaceX to develop this novel interface from scratch in under 3 days, I suspect the SpaceX team being smart helped! I love this video of the results!

The key points I noted from the talk:

  • Started with “Remote PC” using 3D Pro, and replaced HP RGS for better virtualised management
  • 8 users per server
  • $1300 per user – A very compelling price-point for hardware to support ultra high-end graphical designers!
  • 200 users at this point
  • Consolidated to a single datacenter and removed complex TeamCenter caching and regional sites needing data synchronisation
  • “Users are really happy with the experience” and like the mobility options and choice of end-points (e.g. iPads) it has allowed
  • Average bandwidth less than 1 Mbps
  • Engineers have reported responsive satisfactory usage with up to 200ms latency
  • Engineering desktop costs have gone down 20-60% across various groups
  • SpaceX were able to control and limit access to sensitive data whilst still allowing contractors and third parties such as NASA access and easy collaboration

SpaceX’s experience reminded me of some of the NVIDIA GTC 2014 conference presentations using these technologies and its worth checking out these presentation records too:

Siemens PLM announced full support for NX and TeamCenter on Citrix XenDesktop and for TcVis also on XenApp earlier this year. You can read more about the Siemens announcement, here; and more about their use of NX in Aerospace, here.  If you are interested in vendor support for other virtualised graphical applications you might like to read the second half of my blog on a few weeks back, where I covered general software vendor support issues.

Update: In response to comments below, I can confirm that the server hardware used by SpaceX for their vGPU implementation was the Dell R720 platform, a reference architecture for vGPU has been written by Dell that you can find details of here.